Arts & Culture

Geospatial Library relaunched

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Catalog and repository of data for GIS offers enhanced user experience

Following a yearlong process of redesign and testing, the University Library’s Office for Information Systems has relaunched the Harvard Geospatial Library (HGL), the University’s catalog and repository of data for geographic information systems (GIS). The new HGL offers an enhanced user experience through new functionality and a highly intuitive interface.

Open to the general public, HGL allows users to search the descriptive information of thousands of GIS layers using text as well as geographic coordinates. In addition, many of the layers are available for download and are in a consistent, open format so they can easily be used by many different software packages without the need for translation. In order to facilitate the search for meaningful and usable data, HGL can also display GIS layers in a Web-based mapping environment. For information about GIS in general, visit any of the links listed in the help pages within the HGL Web site.

The HGL redesign reflects careful teamwork accomplished by Bonnie Burns, Harvard College Library’s interim co-head of the Harvard Map Collection and geographic information systems coordinator; Wendy Gogel, digital projects program librarian in Harvard University Library’s Office for Information Systems (OIS); David Siegel, OIS geospatial data and information software engineer; Randy Stern, OIS manager of systems development; and Janet Taylor, OIS usability and interface librarian. Working with consultants from Northern Geomantics, the team set out to adopt universal Web conventions, such as map controls and page titles, to simplify access to search and browse functions, to provide easy access to help, and to generalize page layouts, reserving a left-hand column for user actions and a right-hand column for data delivery.

According to Burns, “What we have accomplished with the HGL redesign is twofold. First, we have made the extensive geospatial resources of the library far more accessible to all users by making the Web site more intuitive and up to date. Second, we have given ourselves more freedom and flexibility for future improvements by using open-source components and standard protocols. This will allow us not only to continue to improve our own site, but to work more easily with other geospatial data providers and their systems.”

While anyone can use the catalog to discover GIS items held at Harvard, access to the repository is limited on a layer-by-layer basis. Some layers are held in the public domain and can be viewed and downloaded by all users. Other layers are restricted by license agreements and can be viewed by Harvard-affiliated users only. Access to restricted layers requires a Harvard ID and PIN.

The Harvard Map Collection in the Harvard College Library holds the largest collection of GIS-ready data on campus and is the largest contributor of data to the HGL repository. Other contributors of data include the Center for Geographic Analysis, the Harvard-Yenching Library, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.